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Dropping out of Harvard Business School may have been the best decision of this woman’s life

By Shelly Banjo

Alexa von Tobel, who dropped out of Harvard Business School six years ago to launch an online financial planning startup LearnVest, just sold it to Northwestern Mutual for a reported $250 million.

Although the company had raised a hefty $75 million in at least six rounds of financing, from VCs like Accel Partners and Rose Ventures, Fortune reports that von Tobel, 31, is likely to take home tens of millions of dollars. She will also stay on as CEO of the company, which Northwestern Mutual said it will run separately.

Von Tobel got the idea for LearnVest as a senior at Harvard in 2006 but like many Ivy Leaguers graduating during the high-flying days before the housing bubble popped and the global economy collapsed, decided to try her hand as a trader at Morgan Stanley. She later enrolled at HBS but decided to drop out to start what she referred to in 2009 as a personal finance website for women.

LearnVest expanded to include men, and began to offer automated financial planning online, riding the wave of robo-advisers catering to millennials who are shrugging off traditional financial planners in favor of online financial help, at a fraction of the cost.

Wall Street, worried about the young entrepreneurs who could end up eating its lunch, has begun throwing money at fintech startups to learn about how they operate, what technology they are using, and whether or not they might one day replace the armies of financial advisers employed around the world. American Express, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Fidelity Investments are among the financial giants investing in this area.

Buying LearnVest also gives 158-year-old insurance giant Northwestern Mutual access to 1.5 million customers, the bulk of which are much-coveted millennials that banks and other financial institutions are trying so hard to reach.

Shelly Banjo
Reporter
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